The last few days have been a test of my patience. My father was recently diagnosed with dementia, which was exacerbated by a resistant strain of urine infection that was making it worse. He lost his mind last weekend and pulled out his catheter, prompting his ending up at the emergency room. My brother flew into Puerto Rico and was staying with my dad at a hospital. They were going to ride the hurricane there, my main consolation being that hospitals are considered high-priority by government and they usually have generators for whenever electricity fails. The last time I spoke with my father and brother was on Wednesday. My brother was able to text me yesterday somehow–95% of cell phone towers on the island are down after Hurricane Maria–and tells me that they’re okay, but my dad has some complications with cough. I have not heard from my other brothers, or my mother.
I’m increasingly concerned about my uncles and cousins, who have built two- and three-story houses hanging from the sides of mountains in Utuado, on the big island of Puerto Rico. One of them built his house next to the river, and in past hurricanes the authorities have removed them from their home due to unstable foundations. But the greatest danger is the dozens of landslides that will have happened. Already, three elderly sisters have died due to landslides. The terrain is easily saturated when it rains heavily, and the next town is higher than Utuado, which means that the waters that flow from those higher mountains must cross Utuado before getting to the ocean, passing by Arecibo–which was utterly flooded, last I heard. Arecibo has more than one river delta, so much of the water from the mountains ends up there. Bridges collapsed, and entire communities disappeared under the water. My parents live in Arecibo, but my mother decided to stay with my brother in Caguas for the hurricane, so am hoping they’re okay.
I visited my three uncles in Utuado last time I was there, less than a month ago. There’s something very innocent about people who have lived in rural parts their entire lives. My aunt Marlin, who is one of the sweetest, most loving souls I’ve ever met, is also a great cook. She doesn’t let a guest leave until he’s been fed. She made rice, beans, and a steak dish with vinegar and onions that came out so tender, that I kept asking her what her secret was. She smilingly told me that she had steamed it to get the meat to tenderize, but I suspected she had more secrets under her sleeve.
The island has lost 100% of its grid, which was already in fragile conditions prior to the hurricane due to lack of repair, as PREPA (Puerto Rico’s electric authority) filed for bankruptcy in recent months. My latest blog post in Puerto Rico’s daily paper El Nuevo Dia is actually a call to reinvent the electric grid on the island using public-private partnerships and innovation: not just solar and wind power, but things like house batteries, and the government can also provide tax-breaks and other initiatives and incentives to help people to profitably and easily produce their own energy and sell energy back to the grid in order to decentralize the production of energy and increase island resilience every hurricane season.
Please do not pray for Puerto Rico! Hands that work are a more genuine prayer than lips that pray. If you want to do something useful, please donate money to relief agencies or send drinkable water, canned food, solar ovens, electric generators and other basic-need items. Also, you can pressure our political leadership to trust our scientists and reconsider the dangers of global warming.
The wife of the island’s governor has set up the page United for Puerto Rico to help with the relief efforts. Alternately, GlobalGiving.org is a vetted charity with a “Caribbean
Hurricane Maria & Irma Relief Fund”.